The term “Gunpowder” when used in description of a Green Tea isn’t very useful.
The term “Gunpowder” was used as a brand name by a British company, well, more specifically, “Pinhead Gunpowder,” for a green tea they sold.
It is basically robust green tea formed into what is called “pearl” shape (the same shape used for some types of Oolong). It can come from any of a number of regions in China.
When I first tried to get into tea, I mostly tried drinking English Breakfast and similar black teas. None of them, as they say, really floated my boat. Too harsh.
It wasn’t until I discovered a bulk bin labelled Gunpowder Green Tea at a local Grocery Coop in Madison, WI, that I really found something I liked in tea.
I drank that for years, but eventually drifted back to drinking coffee to keep me properly stimulated while working late nights and early mornings as a line cook.
After we moved to CA, and I got out of the restaurant business, I found that coffee was maybe a bit too stimulating, so I started looking around for my old favorite, “Gunpowder Green Tea”.
I found some “Organic Gunpowder Green Tea” in a bulk bin at a local store, took it home, and gave it a try. I couldn’t believe what I was tasting. It tasted literally like someone had poured an ashtray into the tea while it was being made. It was cloudy, it was harsh, it tasted like ashtray. It was, in short, one of the worst tasting beverages I had tried in my entire life! And I like Smoked Lapsang Souchong tea! I spit it out, threw out the remainder of the bag, and went back to experimenting with English Breakfast style teas.
Over the next few years, I tried a few more times to get back to Chinese Green tea in the species of Gunpowder, and every time I tried, I was confronted by that ashtray taste.
I was completely puzzled.
How had I not noticed this flavor before? Had my tastes changed? Had Gunpowder Tea changed in the intervening years?
I started to research and discovered other people had also noticed this flavor and would post puzzled questions on tea boards, like, “I’m new to Green Tea and just tried Gunpowder Green Tea. Is Green Tea supposed to taste like brewing tea from an ashtray?”
With answers like:
“No, it’s not supposed to taste that way, but many lower-grade gunpowder teas do. Some people actually prefer their gunpowder greens this way, so mainstream US distributors continue to sell shops this variety. Even some supposedly finer grades (pinhead gunpowder) is often found with this flavor profile. I think some consumers expect a smoky flavor from a tea with that name, even though historically gunpowder refers to the shape of the rolled leaf rather than the taste.”reddit r/tea
So, I guess when I first tried Gunpowder tea, back in Madison, WI, I got lucky and found some that was of a higher grade or selected without the ashtray flavor.
So, my advice to you is to avoid anything sold as Gunpowder Tea. If you want to try Chinese Green Tea, please choose any other tea than Gunpowder.